DISEASES OF UN-SPAYED DOGS AND CATS:
SERIOUS POINTS TO PONDER


There are three potentially life threatening diseases that are commonly seen in un-spayed (still have their reproductive parts) female dogs, and I was blessed with having to deal with all of them last week. They are pyometria, ovarian cancers, and breast cancers. And since it has been awhile since I’ve spoken about these frequently fatal diseases, I’ll do so today. But first, as I am prone to do, I’d like to tell a story.

One evening, a long time ago, back before I knew any better, Theresa and I were about sit to enjoy a beautiful buffet dinner up at the Turning Stone Casino when, out of a sense of professional concern, I got the notion to call back home to check if there were any emergency messages on my answering machine. We’d just driven two hours up to Oneida, NY to meet with my father (who I only get to see a couple of times a year) to enjoy the beautiful casino’s delicious buffet, and to bring home a couple of million dollars in winnings. (Despite many attempts, this last wish has yet to materialize.)

Checking my messages was a big mistake—one that I will never, ever make again— because on the machine was a panicking client screaming about her dog bleeding out its back end. As I stood at the payphone writing down the client’s phone number, anyone standing nearby would have heard me verbally paving my way to eternal damnation with words I’ve seldom had the opportunity to use since my navy days. To put it mildly, I was pissed because, now that I knew there was a problem, my conscience would force me to return home as soon as possible to take care of it. So I said goodbye to my father—something I’ve regretted doing forever—and the beautiful buffet, grabbed a couple of burgers at McDonalds before getting on the Thruway, drove the two long hours back home, did an emergency pyometra surgery until two o’clock in the morning on the lady’s poor ancient little dog, and went to bed vowing to sell all of my worldly possessions and run off to Tahiti and spend the rest of my life painting pictures of naked, native, women; which, of course, I didn’t do, because I’m still here telling this story now. (This story had one additional irritation: after all of Theresa and my work, the lady stiffed me on the bill!)

Until they’ve had to deal with one in their own dog or cat (human women can get them also), pyometra is a disease most people probably never heard of. But it’s out there. The word pyometra comes from the Greek words ‘pyon’ meaning pus and ‘metra’ meaning womb. And that’s exactly what the disease is: a very serious, life-threatening, disease in which the uterus of the un-spayed female fills with deadly, fetid-smelling, pus.
Most people have never heard of pyometra because most owners spay their female dogs or cats. Obviously, if your pet doesn’t have a uterus (the uterus and ovaries are removed during a spay), it can’t get a uterus infection. Spaying also addresses the second disease I mentioned, ovarian cancer. These tumors can be scary! But, again, spayed dogs don’t have to worry about ovarian cancer because their ovaries are removed during the spaying surgery.

The last disease which can be greatly reduced in numbers by spaying you pets is breast cancer. Although veterinary researchers say the cancer can still happen, in the hundred or so breast cancer surgeries I’ve done, every single dog and cat was not—I’ll say it again with emphasis—NOT spayed.

So why don’t people spay their dogs or cats? The reasons are very complex and the conclusions would fill this column for the next ten years. The reasons involve multiple issues that range all the way from simply not wanting to spend the money on the surgery, to the almost sacred notion of an owner not wanting to deprive their pet of it’s God-given right to reproduce. It wears me out just thinking about it.

Pyometria is seen in dogs and cats usually over the age of four years. Most of the time owners complain of the animal having a foul (and they really do smell) and sometimes bloody vaginal discharge that comes on very suddenly. With both pyometras and ovarian cancer, sometimes the only sign will be a prolonged bloody ‘spotting’ that is likely to be confused with a regular heat. With both diseases, frequently the only complaint is the dog or cat is very lethargic and is off their feed. All of these gals will die unless attended to; and some, despite heroic efforts, sadly will die anyway from the infection or cancer which spreads to other parts of the body. Treatment always involves an emergency ovariohysterectomy (spaying), usually on a Saturday night when the vet is outta town.

Breast cancers show up as hard nodular swellings along the mammary gland chains on the bellies of cats and dogs. Observant owners usually find them early and their removal is usually curative. However, just like in human women, the cancer can spread—especially in cats. Less observant owners usually wait until a softball-sized mass bursts open on the poor pet’s belly and then it’s too late.

And I’m out of room. Thanks again.

Copyright © 2006 by Richard Orzeck, DVM
The information in this article is based upon the author’s personal experiences, his opinions, and his best interpretation of the data at the time of writing. It is not intended to render veterinary advice or service. Specific needs and questions concerning your pet’s health should always, always, always, be addressed by his or her best friend, their local veterinarian.

 


 
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